Unlike hearing aids which increase the volume of sounds, cochlear implants connect directly to the auditory nerve, bypassing damaged parts of the ear. Cochlear implants consist of internal and external components. A surgically implanted signal receiver connects to the cochlea’s auditory nerve fibers via an electrode array. An external sound and speech processor captures, digitally encodes, and transmits sound via an external sound coil the user places on the scalp over the position of the internal receiver. Cochlear implants are for people who are deaf or have “profound” hearing loss and cannot be helped with hearing aids. The signals transmitted to the auditory nerve are not the same as natural speech sound, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. After surgery patients work with rehab specialists to adapt to the implant system. According to the latest available information from the CDC, approximately 58,000 people in the U.S. had received cochlear implants by the end of 2012.

Cochlear, a major global supplier of cochlear implant systems, makes the Cochlear Nucleus 7 Sound Processor, which is the world’s first iPhone compatible sound processor. It received FDA clearance in June.  Cochlear claims the Nucleus 7 is the smallest and lightest behind-the-ear cochlear implant sound processor available on the market. With this new system, patients can control, monitor, and customize their hearing on their iPhone or iPod touch. The app also detects “coil-offs” when a coil has fallen off the patient’s head, which can be particularly helpful for children who use the system. Another app feature, Find My Processor, uses location services to find a misplaced unit which gives parents or caretakers greater ability to help keep track of children’s sound processors. The system also lets users listen to phone calls and Facetime calls and stream audio wirelessly from an iPhone to the implant.

Cochlear implant patients previously had to rely on their audiologists to adjust the sound processing component of their system. With an iPhone compatible app patients can make adjustments on their own without incurring the expense or spending the time for an appointment with a clinician. This extra independence, plus the added convenience of a direct connection to smartphone audio content has significant potential to improve the quality of life for patients with cochlear implants.